Sunday, October 20, 2013

The end of Botswana.

I wrote this 2 weeks ago but keep forgetting to put it online.

So there is one big question that I am dreading when I get back to the US for good.  How was Peace Corps?  I have come to the conclusion that this question is basically impossible to answer.  But here, in this, my last and final blog for my time as a PCV, I am going to give it a shot.

First of all, when I joined PC way back in the day, I assumed that the end of two years of service would bring about some kind of cosmic moment where I finally understand the world.  WRONG!  In certain things I have gotten clarity, but in others I feel more confused.  But I have come to the solid conclusion of, that is just how life works.  You will not know everything, and really you should not worry about fighting that losing battle.  Yes, I will always keep striving to learn new things, but I am not going to beat myself up over it.  For example, during this time I have gotten clarity on how I want to focus my further studies, but I have gotten more confused on how the world works as a whole.  And that is because each part is so unique, so different from others, that it is impossible to apply one theory to the whole.  In fact it would be a disservice to each part to even attempt to do so.

Peace Corps in general was a series of ups and down (of the most extreme kind) that you work through day by day to keep moving on.  Some days, weeks, months seem to fly by.  Others seem to drag on for years.  But in the end it is only 2 years, no matter what it feels like.  And because of how time feels while you are in PC, your perception of the experience is skewed.  Right at this moment, I tend to dwell more on the moments that sucked.  That felt like they took years, simply because they are fresh in my mind.  And I tend to gloss over the good parts quickly.  This doesn’t mean I did not enjoy my experience, it just means that this is where I am right now.  In a little while I will probably start to forget more and more of the bad, and remember the good with happier eyes.  Eventually I will be looking at the whole experience through rose tinted 20/20 goggles.  And once again, all of this is ok.  It is understandable that I am jaded right now.  I am on the cusp of finishing after two long years.  So naturally I will focus more on the negative to help ease the transition back to the US as a positive thing.  But I know that over time this paradigm will change. 

But if I had to attempt to summarize Peace Corps in one word…well it would be weird.  I mean, in what other scenario are you going to be thrown into another culture with a bunch of strangers who will come out of it at the other end being some of your closest friends?  And you see so many strange things with these new friends.  I have witnessed exorcisms, group mental health sessions, and cars hitting goats or cows just to name a few. 

Despite all of the problems you may have with the country you serve and the protocol/government hoops/whatever else is impeding your service, you come away with a fondness for the country and the people.  Yes, there will be things that infuriate you till you want to hit your head against a wall, but in the end you can’t help having a special place in your heart for the whole thing. 

And that is ultimately what I think Peace Corps is all about at the end of the day.  Despite all the problems, frustrations and failures you will still always cherish your experience (maybe not quite as much right after) and it will be something that is always with you.  So I would say that in answer to “How was Peace Corps?” I would say that it was an experience that made a mark on me (for good or ill) that I will never be able to erase.  It won’t control the rest of my life, but it will always be there, lingering beneath the surface.     

Friday, October 4, 2013

New page!

Well in honor of finishing my 300 books I posted a new page to the blog that is the list of all the books I have read.  Check it out if you are curious.  Final blog post coming next week.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Counting down

So today I booked my flight back to the US.  My permanent flight.  It is a bit odd, thinking that the roller coaster of the last two years are coming to an end.  I mean for the past month I have been looking for jobs and working on my graduate school applications, but buying the tickets for the flight let the reality set in.  I am almost done.  My last day as a PCV is in 36 days, then I get to add an R to the front of that acronym for returned.  And in 38 days I land in Chicago, and if everything goes well on the job hunt hopefully within about a week or so after that I will be moving to Grand Rapids for work (or at least interviews).

I know I haven't written one of these in the past few months, but besides the amazing vacation I took with Aunt Jackie, Uncle Ron and Alex, not much has happened.  My work is winding down, and I am just counting days.  But I thought I would take a few minutes to reflect on some of the things two years in the Peace Corps has meant to me personally.

Well first of all, I want to relate a little story told to me by another PCV.  She was telling me about her son who did PC a few years back in South America.  When he finished and got back to the US he hadn't changed that many of his habits, but he was much more conscious of them.  I think that is probably the best assessment I have heard of what Peace Corps does for you.  I mean I am not going to start bucket bathing in the US to save water, but when I shower I will be more aware of how not everyone has access to this.  It is one thing to study about inequality and lack of resources, but actually witnessing it and living with it is a whole different ball game.

Besides this wider perspective there are three distinct things that I want to thank Peace Corps for.

1.  Giving me time for personal growth.  I have done so much here that I would never thought I had time/ambition for (writing a novel, running a marathon, pushing my limits with bungee jumping and such), and now I know that I can achieve all that and more as long as I make time for it.

2.  Giving me a focus for my future.  I knew that I wanted to get a Ph.D. and eventually teach.  But I did not entirely know what subject.  Political science is a broad field and my time in Peace Corps has helped me narrow it to gender/gender roles and equality issues.  And now I have a narrow, focused program I am looking at for my graduate studies.

3.  Friends.  This is possibly the thing I will treasure most from Peace Corps.  Some of the people I have gotten to know here are going to be my friends for the rest of my life.  And you met such a wide breadth of people in Peace Corps.  I have friends here from my age group all the way to mid 60s.  Some are just starting their careers, some are ending and some just changing.  They are from all over the US.  In short, these are people I would have never met without this.  And now, some of them know parts of me better than anyone in the US does.  Just like some people in the US will know certain things about me better than anyone I have met here.  That is just the nature of the beast.  My friends here will be able to understand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs associated with Peace Corps service better than anyone since they lived through it with me.

Well, that is about it for now, I will probably only do one more blog post to close it out and that will come in just over 30 days at the end of my service!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

100 days!

So today marks a very important milestone for my Peace Corps service.  100 days left.  At times it has felt like much longer than two years, and at other times nowhere close to that mark.  But either way it is here.  Considering I started this blog with the 100 day mark from when I left the states I thought this would be a good moment to offer some advice to past me (or anyone reading this who is thinking about Peace Corps).  So here are the pieces of advice I would tell myself before coming to Botswana that I know now.

  1. Get ready for failure.  You may not be used to it now, but you will be.
  2. Don’t be so na├»ve.  There is no way you will learn everything about Botswana before you come here.
  3. Speaking of which, just stop trying to learn Setswana, you are not pronouncing anything right.
  4. In that same thought, other people are going to be better at the language than you are, that is alright.  You, personally, will not use it that much.  *This is mainly due to me sticking primarily with my school with few outside projects and the kids are supposed to learn English at the schools.  Other PCVs use Setswana much more.
  5. You know those McCall Smith books you are reading that are set in Botswana?  Interesting stories, but no, not even close.
  6. Pack spices.  Seriously, you do NOT need stockpiles of soap and shampoo.  You need spices. 
  7. Also, get a headlamp.  Handy for when your power goes out or you are living without electricity.
  8. Did you seriously pack a wrench?  Why?
  9. The same goes for the screwdrivers, pliers and electric razor.
  10. The hammer comes in handy (but only hardly-possibly not worth the space).
  11. Get a second one of those pans Brandon got you.  That thing is awesome.
  12. Less clothes.  You have only worn some of these things once.  In 2 years.
  13. More gum.  You can never have too much Trident and they don’t have your favorite kind here.
  14. Tangent side note: get used to spelling in British English.  I almost put a u in favorite.
  15. Also, don’t be embarrassed when kids correct your spelling from American to British.
  16. If there is some kind of sauce you really like, bring some bottles.  It is either not here, or way too expensive.
  17. See above in regards to tequila.
  18. Or really any hard alcohol.  The affordable stuff here you didn’t even sink low enough to drink in college.
  19. Quit the cemetery earlier (or rather don’t take the summer job).  Seriously, spend more time with people than trying to make a few extra bucks for a few months.
  20. Scrap the black shoes, dust never leaves them, and bring back-up running shoes.
  21. Bring more duct tape.  It is so useful.
  22. Don’t bring that heavy of clothes.  Layering sweaters and t-shirts is fine for you.  You are used to and like cold.
  23. Summer blows.  But at least there is no humidity.
  24. Speaking of, get used to getting up at 5am so you can run before it gets too hot.
  25. Don’t feel bad if you are not friends with everyone else in Peace Corps.  At training they may drill that into you but it really is ok to not hang out with everyone.
  26. When in doubt on ANYTHING, just play the cultural ignorance card.  It almost always works.
  27. Why did you bring 2 actual suitcases?  Be like almost everyone else and get a hiking backpack.  You are just going to buy one within a few months here anyway.
  28. Did you really try writing in Setswana in your first few blogs?  Seriously?  I know training can tend to be a pissing contest but everyone gets over it really fast.  Try not to sink into it.
  29. Speaking of, you may have just got done with college, and others in your group may be retired psychologists, but guess what, this is new to ALL of you.  Don’t try so hard to impress.
  30. You underestimated the amount of cards you need.  You know how much you play cards.  Buy more.
  31. Buy more brown, it blends with the sand and dirt.
  32. Bring a hard-drive, you need media.
  33. Get comfy talking about poop.
  34. There will be a time when you think about extending for a third year.  You will look back on it as a very funny joke.  Do not take that thought seriously.
  35. You work site will know very little about Peace Corps rules, you can use them as a scapegoat to get out of things.
  36. Never vent your anger on people with cars.  Even if they piss you off don’t burn that bridge.
  37. Stop worrying about whether you have electricity and that stuff.  The mental adjustments are so much worse.
  38. Speaking of which, take time to deal with that.
  39. And don’t feel guilty about it.
  40. Gabs is a money pit.  Don’t avoid it, just be prepared.
  41. Tell people to send you trashy tabloid magazines.  They become so entertaining over here.
  42. Walk around a lot.  Staying in can be nice to hide, but you still need to get out there.
  43. Mindless entertainment is so awesome.
  44. Speaking of which, maybe not the best time to buckle down and read all the classics.
  45. But you can still get through a few.
  46. You cannot take care of all the dogs.  You are really going to want to.
  47. In that same note, get ready to witness what we consider animal abuse.
  48. And corporal punishment.
  49. You know what, just start getting a calloused heart now.  Because you will not be effective in changing the behavior, so get used to ignoring it.
  50. You will have an urge to beat a snake with a rock.  Makes for a cool story, but seriously?  What the hell were you thinking?
  51. Peace Corps may say a laptop is optional.  IGNORE!  Bring one.
  52. Most Batswana won’t say no.  Just assume that unless people show a lot of enthusiasm they mean no.
  53. Even if they say yes, they mean no.
  54. Nothing happens now (or even “now now”).  Just assume things will take a while.
  55. Speaking of the word no, it is about to become your new best friend.  Embrace it.
  56. Your de-stressing activities need to be routine.  Or you will fail to do them.
  57. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself to be calm so you don’t get angry for the wrong reason. 
  58. Don’t sacrifice your personal style just because you think something else will be more appropriate.
  59. You will want those things to make you feel like you.
  60. If you think something is worthwhile do it.
  61. Even if you are doing it alone.  It will still make you feel better if nothing else.
  62. You can actually buy good food with your budget.  Don’t think you need to scrimp on food.
  63. Buy one of those really cool insta-dry towels.  So handy for travel.

My original goal was to try to hit 100 pieces of advice, but I am not going to stretch this out any longer.  Also, thanks to Shannon, Mia and Amelia for some of these ideas.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Turning 24

Well so it is now my second and last birthday that I will be celebrating during Peace Corps.  This past year has definitely been more jam-packed than the one before it.  By the time I turned 23 I had yet to leave Botswana, taken no vacations, and had no major work projects successfully get off the ground.  In this past year I have travelled around quite a bit of Southern Africa.  I have been to different parts of Botswana (especially considering my moving villages), travelled to: Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and back to the US, have written a novel, ran a marathon and finally had some great work successes. 

So for a blog post to commemorate the past year I am going to focus on the positive things that I have accomplished in this past year, both personally and professionally.

Work successes:  I have had two big ones in this category (one at each of my sites).  In my current village of Gamodubu you might remember that at the end of the first Term our school finished putting a library together.  Well, Term 2 just ended and I am proud to say that so far the library has been very successful.  We have had more than 60 kids check out well more than 100 books in just about a month’s time.  With this term being the shortest one (and I being missing for a good portion) I expect this number to rise higher next term. 

The other success I just learned about the other day from a project I left at my old site in Kaudwane.  I was working on a school garden with a teacher there and right before I moved sites we had sent off some requests for donations to get it running better.  Well, that teacher called me the other day to tell me that a few months back the school received 15000 pula to help make the garden work!  With that money shade netting has been bought and put up, new tools were also purchased to work the soil and with the remaining balance they are bringing in a specialist to examine the soil and provide assistance in making the soil yield more.  It is always a huge goal of Peace Corps to see if a project will be sustainable when you leave (and one most people do not get to see first-hand) so this was really exciting to see happen!

Personal successesHuh.  I realize I already used a bunch of my personal successes up in my intro for this blog.  Whoops.  Well there is still one other thing I have not mentioned.  I have finally figured out a firm direction for my graduate studies and the list of schools I am applying to.  I am applying for Gender based programs where I plan to focus on sexual orientation and gender roles and how both societal attitudes and laws regarding these distinctions hinder equal opportunities for people.  The schools I am looking at are Loyola (Chicago), University of Washington (Seattle), the United Nations University for Peace (Costa Rica) and University of San Francisco (guess where?). 

Yet to go:  This part is more a reminder to myself about things I still need to do to accomplish my personal goals from my post entitled Goal 4 back in February.  I still need to edit the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo.  I also need to finish my 300 books.  I can say that I have less than 50 to go, so I think I can still do it.

And well, I think that is it for today.  I am planning to put up another post on Sunday to mark a different milestone that happens to fall very close to my birthday. 


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Readjustment, from this side

So right before I came back to Bots I wrote about my perspective on coming back here.  So now I figured I would do a quick update on how I am thinking about this readjustment thing now now.

So first of all, it has not been nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  And I think that is simply because I can say that I have 16 weeks left of service.  It is so close that no matter what it seems doable.  The same things here are still frustrating me when I deal with them...which is all the time.

A quick example.  For every victory comes at least a few frustrating moments.  I finally got gas for my stove on Thursday.  After 6 months of no gas.  So that was a huge victory.  And within that same day the driver from the Min of Ed (who has a real job and makes way more than me) was begging me for money.  And then later that day when I was heading into town for some airtime the bus refused to take me.  Not because they had no room...there were seats.  There is just some arbitrary rule that particular bus had that it was not allowed to pick up people on that road.  Something about competition with other buses.

But overall it is nothing unexpected.  And the other part of readjustment has been the boredom.  I have been super bored.  Since I have been back there have been other events at the school going on and now it is exam time.  And then school closes.  So that is why I have been spending time doing things like updating my resume.  Because I am super bored.

Anyway, just thought I would do a bit of an update on how I am doing after being back.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Back to Bots

In several hours I get to start the long trek back to Botswana.  It is going to take me at least two days, with overnights in Doha and Jo’burg before I get back.  Needless to say I am not looking forward to it.  At all.  The flight is just dreadful.
But anyway, with that out of the way I figured I would spend just a quick bit of time talking about my trip to the US.  First of all, it was fantastic.  It was great to be in a familiar environment, around friends and family, and just being able to relax.  I mean fully relax (something which does not happen that often in Bots for me).
Naturally I did what most PCVs would do when graced with a trip to the US.  I ate lots of food I can’t get there (good pizza, Mexican, Chinese, Mexican…did I say Mexican yet?), stocked up on supplies for my last few months, and showered every day.  All in all it was pretty awesome. 
Also, during my trip to the US I got to attend a wedding.  So, to Katie and Sean (currently on your honeymoon) congrats!  And thanks for having me in the wedding party.  I got to see most of my family and nearly all of my friends.  Which that is good and bad.  It is amazing to see people you have not seen for nearly two years.  But that means you still have to go through the process of saying goodbye to them yet again.  At least this time around it will only be for a few months. 
And even though I know it is only for a few months, I still am not looking forward to going back to Bots.  It was nice to get back into a bit of a familiar routine.  And since I am close to being done I have started to look around at jobs for after Peace Corps.  It would be so easy to just not come back.
But when have you ever known me to take the easy way?  I am stubborn.  And I am sure once I get back in Botswana and spend a few weeks falling back into a routine there it will be fine.  But looking at it from this end (especially with that long flight in between) I am not excited.  A lot of PCVs I talked to before coming back expressed that if they went back to the US during service they may not come back to Botswana.  And I must say, that is a legitimate concern.  If it was not for Katie and Sean’s wedding I would not have returned during service.  And while I am glad I did, if I had no particular reason to come back to the US, I would not advise doing it until PC service is done. 

When I set out to write this it was planned to be much more coherent in my head, but well, this is how it is turning out.  Oh well, what do you do?  Right at the moment the plan is to post another blog at the end of June (when the school term ends) so check back then to see how I am viewing the readjustment from that side.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Weird things I do...or are they?

So, I will be back in the states for a short time very soon.  And I thought we could all play a little game while I am back.  The game is “find all the weird stuff I do now that I didn’t do before!”  Peace Corps makes people weird.  So below is a list of things that either I (or other PCVs from Botswana) have started to do since we arrived here.  Some are due to the Botswana influence, and some due to the PC influence.  I have included things other people do that I do not, because we all could use a little bit of misleads in this game. 

  •    Saying “half three or half past three” instead of three thirty when telling the time
  •    Picking my nose
  •    Greeting strangers on the street
  •    Talking about poop-entirely too much and at inappropriate times.
  •    Doing the “uh-uh” thing that is usually reserved for babies and small kids-to adults.
  •   Waving my hand in front of my face (backside out) as a non-verbal way of saying no.
  •    Doubling words (now now, what what, and so on).
  •    Using the words “that side” as directions.
  •    Using the exclamations “eish!” and “Ow, shame!” in everyday conversation.
  •    A general decline in my ability to speak English
  •   Getting overwhelmed by any menu with more than a few choices
  •   Talk about food, incessantly
  •   Talking/pining about sex way too much
  •   Binging-in regards to food.  I am talking about eating blocks of cheese at a time, or cocoa mix out of the bag with your hand, and so on.
  •   Never leaving the house without water and a book
  •   An intimate knowledge of the amount and kinds of cheese in my fridge (or in any fridge I have seen the inside of for thirty seconds)
  •  Hoarding
  •  Talking to myself or animals constantly
  •   Blatantly ignoring people trying to get my attention because I think they are going to hit on me or ask me for money
  •   Not washing sheets, for an extended period of time
  •   Re-wear clothes many times
  •   Saying bath instead of bathe
  •   Hit people with my bag passive aggressively who refuse to make room
  •   Apathy about bugs in food
  •   When shaking hands holding my left hand near my right elbow
  •   Doing the above when taking something from someone else with one hand
  •   When counting on my fingers I often start with the pinky 

I would like to thank the following people to contributing to this list: Mia, Claire, Julia, Ashley, Margie, Dana and Shannon

And now I want to do a quick little update from a blog I called Goal 4 from a while back.  I had four goals that I still wanted to accomplish and here is a progress update on them.

  • Read 300 books:  Well I am currently up to 232 books, so I am getting there
  • Edit the novel: Have not touched this one yet
  • Run a marathon: Completed in 4:18:40.  WOOHOO!
  • Figure out the next step:  I finally have a complete list of graduate school programs I am applying for.  I am applying at the following 4 schools: The United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica, San Fransisco State University, University of Washington in Seattle, and Loyola in Chicago.

See a bunch of you stateside in less than a week or so!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Library!

Hey everyone,

So I wanted to write a blog on some good news.  My school has officially started a library.  I finished putting it together yesterday so that way when Term 2 starts kids can come and check-out books.  Please note that the following tale about starting a library is quite unusual.  I had a lot of positive factors work in my favor that made this possible in such a short time.  Most PCVs are not lucky enough to have all of this working for them.

So naturally the first step is to get people on board with the idea of making a library.  Usually this can be an issue just in itself, but at the beginning of March (yeah, this whole process took just a month-rather unusual) my counterpart came to me and said that she wanted to start one at the school.  Community interest accomplished!  Onto the next step.

This is usually one of the hardest steps to accomplish.  Finding a space.  Most schools need a new building built in order to house any size library.  Lots of PCVs have to scrounge for donations, including grant writing to try and accomplish this.  Once again, I had a huge stroke of good fortune.  Our school had a store room with not a lot in it that could be cleared out and relocated.

Sure, it isn't the biggest space in the world, in fact it is just a storage closet.  But it is better than having nothing available, that is for sure.  So naturally the next step in the process is to clear out the store room.  (Although this step actually did not get done till after we got book donations, it still needs to get done before assembling the library.)

And once the school cleaned out the space, I was ready to rock and roll on putting this thing together.  I went around to several classes and got teachers to give me some metal cabinets they were not using so I would have something to put the books on.


Since 1998 the Botswana Book Project has been responsible for bringing over 450,000 books to schools all throughout Botswana.  Started by Pam Shelton in the Maun area, it has spread all throughout Botswana.  There are many ways you can help, and we welcome all support.  You can donate to shipments at  All donations are tax deductable.  You can also donate books.  To see all the ways you can help, and to see the results of our work in action, please visit:   We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

And we are back.  In all seriousness, this organization is fantastic.  I was able to get over 200 books for our library from them.  They are doing great work all over Botswana and if you are in a position to help them I know it would be greatly appreciated.  Here is what I was able to get from them.

These boxes had over 200 books between them.  So at this point I had some books to start with and some cabinets.  At this point, one of the teachers tell me they got a book donation from The Botswana Library Association in 2011.  But, they didn't know where to put them so they were just sitting in a teacher's storeroom for two years.  Well I quickly liberated those books to incorporate them into the library.

Now that I had all the parts, it was time to sort.  We had books that I put into 7 different categories: Stories and Novels, Learning to Read, Health, Science and Nature, Religion, Reference Books, and Teacher's Resources.  Also, I got some maps from Pam Shelton as well (See, another great reason to support her!!!), so I used those and some signs I made to decorate the walls and label the book sections.  After about a half day of sorting and putting things up on Wednesday we had a finished product.

As you can see we still have room for a ton more books.  I am planning to look around to see if I can find more, but it is at least nice to have some ready to go.  A few kids saw me setting it up yesterday and asked if they can take some.  School closed yesterday, and I wasn't done with the work, so I told them at the start of Term 2 they can.  Here is hoping it gets some use!

Monday, March 18, 2013

It's a strange strange world

Hey, you know what I haven’t done in a while?  Written a blog post.  Or a letter for that matter.  For all of those people who I was in fairly regular mail correspondence with, oops.  This lack has been totally my fault.  I dropped the ball on that one.  I plan to resume that soon. 

Well, anyway, I was trying to figure out what to write for a blog post, and I have had people tell me that they like my list style posts as some of my best.  So now I have a new list for you.  The 5 biggest WTF moments of the past couple months.  All of these have happened since I moved into my new place.  So while they may not be the strangest moments I have ever had here, they are the most recent.

5.  On one of my walks back into the village from doing some errands in Gabs I managed to get lucky and snag a ride.  In the back of the truck with me was the health education officer for the village.  She had gone grocery shopping that day too.  We dropped at the same spot and walked together for a bit since we live in the same area.  Well, she eventually got around to asking me why I was not at the Male Circumcision workshop the week before at the Kgotla.  Well, first of all, I try to avoid the Kgotla like the plague, not my favorite place to be.  I find it boring and tedious when I could be doing something much more useful.  But I probably would have gone to it for that workshop.  While I know about SMC from a bunch of Peace Corps stuff, it would have been nice to see what messages were getting out. 

The real reason I did not go was because I was not invited.  The health officer hosted the workshop and I told her that I was not invited to go.  She told me that she had dropped off the invitation at the school inviting the Guidance teacher, one other teacher, and myself.  Now, I did see her a little before the workshop drop something at the office, but when the announcement came from the school head, all she said was, “There is a workshop at the Kgotla on Monday and Mma Thupe (the Guidance Teacher) is going.”  No one inquired any further; it seemed like a done decision.  I did not even know until later what the workshop was.  When I explained this to the health officer, she still said I should have been there.  Somehow, it was my fault I missed it.  These kinds of things happen a lot and I know how to brush them off pretty well, but they still make me scratch my head for a little while.

4.  Those of us over here in Bots are aware that the weather is starting to cool off (at least in the mornings).  This is one of my favorite times of the year here-not summer.  But for some of my teachers this kind of weather has a different significance.  This is a conversation I was around, but thankfully not a part of between two teachers.

Teacher 1: Do you know what they call this weather?
Teacher 2: No, I don’t know.
Teacher 1: BMW.
Teacher 2: BMW?  Ah, why do they call it that?
Teacher 1: What does BMW mean?
Teacher 2 guesses: “Be My Wife?”
Teacher 1 laughs and asks me if I know what BMW means.  I am as confused as Teacher 2 is and shake my head.
Teacher 1: No, not be my wife, baby making weather.
I walk away, still confused by why that happened.

3.  So while my new house is far and away more posh than my old place, it is still missing a few things.  Namely, a front door that opens, and a gas tank for the stove.  The door is not a huge deal; I can just go in and out through the kitchen door.  But the gas tank has had me borrowing another teacher’s hotplate for the past 2 months.  Which does my school management think is the bigger problem?  The door of course.  When I say that I need gas they say I have they hotplate.  I say the hotplate is not mine, plus when the electricity is out, I cannot cook.  But when I say that the door does not matter because I can get in and out they say that “it is not healthy to only use the back door to get into your house.”  Once again, mystified, I ask why.  Answer: it just is not healthy.  Still mystified.

2.  I always have a hard time picking a winner for things like this.  I usually waver between something monumental or something that is perpetual.  In this case, I am going with the monumental, so the perpetual gets second.  All in all, this instance is not really that impressive, except for the fact that it happens to me at least twice a week it seems.  People asking where I am…when they are not there.  For example, this morning I got asked by a teacher why I did not see them yesterday.  I said I did not know.  I was at assembly like I am every morning and I was back in the afternoon for PACT club.  Usually everyone is supposed to be at assembly.  Then she said, “Ah, I was late yesterday.  But I needed to talk to you and I did not see you.”  I asked why she did not come see me at PACT club then.  “Ah, I had to go early.”  Huh?  How is this somehow my responsibility to divine when you want to talk to me?  But my absolute favorite is people saying they did not see me…when they were actually out almost all day and just came around 3pm to sign a log book at the school.  And yet somehow that happens so often to me…

1. This one actually happened to me the day after I wrote the first draft of this blog.  I had to alter my list and make this new occurrence number 1.  I was on an hour long combi ride, in the front seat area.  The conductor was two people away from me with a woman in between us.  Now, the conductor clearly wanted to get with this woman.  Also, they had never met before.  At the beginning he tries and arm around the shoulder.  After a few rebuffs the woman I guess decides “what the hell” and goes with it.  Within 10 minutes he is grabbing her boob.  Full-on, right in the front of the combi.  All the while I am stuck next to this.  Eventually things cool off for a minute when he starts to take money from everyone.  At this point the woman pulls out some lip gloss.  As she is putting it away the conductor takes it from her.  And puts some on.  Yeah.  And it gets weirder.

Finally my destination is in sight.  Just a couple more minutes and I will be off the combi.  And of course, the conductor picks this moment to go for broke.  He puts his hand up her skirt.  And she lets him!!!!  Right in front of everyone he is feeling up her skirt.  And she is just laughing.  At this point she is getting off the combi too, so what do the new lovers do?  Exchange names and phone numbers.  Yup, didn’t even know each other’s names till that point.  People are weird.

Finally, I just want to end with just a couple general updates.  For a week in early April I will be off to Mozambique to enjoy some time on the Indian Ocean.  As far as work goes, the school closes for a few weeks at the end of March.  I just host a training for the teachers on Infusion of the Life Skill books (basically my main purpose here) and we are supposed to be implementing them starting next term, so we will see how that goes.  And finally, in just two short months I will be back in the US for a few weeks.  I have a special game that everyone can play when I am back, details to come in another blog post.  J

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Round 2

            The New Year signals new beginnings; hence we all make resolutions that many break within a month.  For some of us in the PC family this year really signified a new beginning.  Four of us moved sites with the start of 2013 due to various reasons.  For me, moving to a new site about half-way through service has been a mix of positives and increased challenges.
            When people first asked what I thought about moving sites I didn’t know how to answer.  At times it felt like going up a hill on a roller coaster.  Even if you’ve been on it before, you get excited for the thrill of the upcoming drop.  On the other hand I felt like I was a character in the old Mortal Kombat video games with the announcer yelling “Round 2.  FIGHT!”  And you know what?  Both of them turned out to be pretty accurate.
            Let me just start off by saying that PC is right when thinking a site change should be one of the last resorts to aid volunteers in their service.  Yes, there may be instances where it has to happen which can vary from programmatic to security, but having changed sites I do firmly believe it should not be a first choice.  Not only is changing sites a hassle logistically, but it also takes a toll on the volunteer.
            1.  Being homeless.  Changing sites won’t happen overnight.  Most of us who changed recently were living in Gabs (guesthouses, house sits and Kgale View) for at least a month.  Living out of a bag for a few days in a lodge is nice.  Doing it for weeks on end is taxing.  Yet this only hints at the emotional toll of moving villages. 
            2.  Saying goodbye.  Even if nearly everything is going bad at site, there are still a few people or things you have grown fond of in your village.  These things/people are part of what we use for support and comfort.  You have to let them go.  For me, I enjoyed the work I was doing with the kids at my school, and had some good relationships with a few teachers I worked with.  And now I have to rebuild those structures in Gamodubu.
            3.  Starting over.  At least for me, changing at half-way, it seemed all of the projects I started in Kaudwane finally were getting going.  The school garden had gone from non-existent to having over 20 growing plots.  The PACT club started meeting even with me gone.  And other teachers just started taking up some of the projects I was the lead on.  Now, I get to start that whole process over again.
            4.  Ok.  Passing all of that, you now have a site, a house and you get to move.  This is exciting if only for the sake of having a place to call home.  But then you reach the final hurdle.  Understanding people.  Even if you didn’t have the best relationship with your counterpart/supervisor/organization, odds are you knew their work styles and how to work with them.  Now you have to learn that with new people.  You have to go around and reintroduce yourself to everyone; explain who you are and what Peace Corps is.  This, combined with hurdle three can make it seem like the time at your first site was wasted.
            However, not all is lost!  Even if you find yourself starting over, many things are going to be easier this time.  You have experience working in an organization, you understand protocol better and you were able to test ideas to gauge what works and what doesn’t.  This is invaluable and will aid you in getting up and running. 
For example, in Kaudwane it took almost a month to get the PACT club going due to getting permission, recruiting kids, finding a meeting space, and other details.  When I got to Gamodubu I knew my hurdles and within one week the school and I started 3 clubs.  And remember those programs/ideas/activities that fell flat?  I know we all had something just not work.  Well, now you know better and can focus on doing those that did work.  It’s easy to streamline activities since you already have experience of knowing what failed and what worked.  You can cut the bad and focus on making the good better. 
While I do think a site change was the best choice for me, it was hard to leave Kaudwane.  I will miss the kids and the friends I made.  But I’m excited to put what I learned during that year to use in Gamodubu.  It all goes with the PC motto of having no expectations.  You just have to deal with the hand you are dealt and try to turn that pair of twos into a full house.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Goal 4

                You know what I discovered today?  Writing the intro to these blogs is hard.  I already have plenty of ideas for content, but can never quite figure out how to introduce the topic.  For today’s post, I think I will go with a story.  This morning I ran to Gabs to do some paperwork with the Min of Ed.  I was cutting through the Parliament grounds on my walk from the bus rank to Main Mall (I had to swing by Botswana Power Corporation) when I realized I was not even thinking about where I was going. 
This does not mean that I was lost.  It was one of those moments that showed me that I had a small sense of belonging.  It is those random moments that catch me off guard that remind me of the progress I made and that I am considering the place I live the place I belong to (at least for the moment).  It reminded me of when I was in Spain and watching the weather report.  At first I thought who cares how hot it is in Spain.  Then I realized, o right, I do.   What I am getting at is, today I had a moment where everything just seemed to click for an infinitesimal span of time.  These are the moments that really make Peace Corps service worth it and show you how much you have grown as a person.
See, wasn’t that a nice story?  Uplifting and such?  Well, then a bit later in the day I almost got pitched out of a donkey cart several times (the guy really could not control his animals well).  These moments make you frustrated, scared (lots of thorn bushes I almost fell into) and just plain weary.  And when those pile up without any of the “clicking” moments, it makes it hard to remember why you stay in Peace Corps. 
So, with that long preamble out of the way, let me introduce the topic of this post.  Goal 4.  This is what I use (and I think many others too) when I need to refocus and remember why I am here (or just distract myself from the bad).  In Peace Corps, our project framework has three goals:

1.        To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2.       To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3.       To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans. 

Goal number one would be the work that we do.  Educating on HIV/AIDS will ideally create a better informed populace that initiates behavior change to combat HIV/AIDS.  Goal two would be those long, often tedious, but very rewarding conversations with people about how not all Americans have money.  There are poor people.  I don’t know celebrities.  Goal 3…well you’re reading it.  Most days this is enough.  Meeting these goals (or even just one at times) will give you the strength to keep going.  But there are plenty of times where you need something more.  That is where goal 4 comes in. 

4.        Meet personal needs and desires for self-improvement.

This is not an official goal of Peace Corps, but I think it should be.  We judge our numbers in people reached with HIV/AIDS messages and behaviors changed.  And Peace Corps recognizes that this is best achieved with small groups at a time or even individually.  Well, no matter what, there is at least one person who will always change, you.  Having personal goals is something people should always have anyway.  But it is so much more important when in Peace Corps.  With how many days frustrate and exacerbate PCVs, this is one of the ways we can have something tangible to focus on that is in our control. 
                And these goals will vary from person to person.  Some people want to start doing yoga more.  Some want to learn a new language (which will also help with the rest of your service).  Some just want to do some self-reflection and focus on where their life is going from here.  All of these are great goals that can keep you sane, give you something to strive for and be very rewarding.  So I thought I would share with all of you some of my Goal 4s.  Both met and ones that I still am planning to meet. 

·         Read more for pleasure.  I really wanted to catch up on reading I wanted to do but have not yet had time for.  And the books have ranged from academic to idiotic, long to short, fiction to nonfiction, contemporary to classics, and good to bad.  And trust me, not all have been winners.
·         Write more.  This one I was meeting, then stopped meeting, then met again.  When I first came here I was journaling every day.  Between that and the blog I was getting tons of writing done.  Then the journal petered out.  At first I was frustrated with myself that I fell off the wagon.  I was still updating the blog, so that was something.  Then someone told me about how they noticed that they only kept a journal updated when they were angry, or something new and exciting happened.  And it made sense why I stopped.  Everything seemed more normal, and I was coping better with the expected anger that arises from cultural differences.  In a way, my lack of writing was showing my comfort.  So I stopped beating myself up over it.  And then along came NaNoWriMo and I wrote a novel.  And now I am writing articles fairly regularly for our monthly in-country PC newsletter.  So, goal met.
·         Make new friends.  If I was going to be working and living in a new place for a couple years I at least wanted some new friends out of it.  And I definitely have gotten some that I plan on being friends with for many years to come.  Sure, I will not stay in touch with a lot of people after PC, or at best sparingly.  And I have accepted that.  It is just the way life works.
·         Not surrender my old life.  When I came half-way around the world, I was worried about what might happen to my relationships with friends and family back in the US.  Also, I hoped that I would get to continue doing work that was important to me.  Well, I can say that for the most part I have kept my relationships in the states strong (some better than others).  Also, through the Peer Support and Diversity Network that I am on, I have been able to do similar work to what I was doing back in the US and that I find personally satisfying. 
·         Broaden my horizons.  I wanted to experience new things in Peace Corps.  And I have.  I have learned how to live without electricity or running water.  I have done the world’s largest bungee swing.  I went Quad biking and sand boarding for the first time.  I swam in a cage with sharks around.  And I plan to go scuba diving for the first time in April in Mozambique.

Still working on:
·         Read 300 books during my PC service.  I had been delaying putting a number for this one, but now I am declaring for the world to see that I am shooting for 300 by the time I finish PC.  Right now I am at 185 books read.  With well over 200 days to go I think I can still make the 300 mark with how fast I read.  Wish me luck.
·         Edit the novel and figure out what, if anything, I am going to do with it.  I haven’t touched my novel since I finished it in November.  But I do really like it (at least the initial draft) and want to see what it could look like after I polish it up.  I think February might be my editing month.  I gave the rough version to some people, and one of them has gotten me feedback so far.  Hoping to get it from a few more and then go from there.
·         Marathon.  Yeah, I said it.  Marathon.  I just found out about this yesterday actually, but I am going to do it.  It is in Gabs during the first week of May.  AKA, right before I come back to the US for a visit.  So you all can hold me to it starting now.
·         Figure out the next step.  I have this part of the way done.  I know I want to go to Grad School.  I have a general idea on what program/programs I want to apply for.  But by no means is the list finalized.  Nor have I figured out exactly where I want to work both in between Grad School, and afterwards when I am pursuing the Ph.D.  So I still have some stuff to figure out there.

And with that I think I will wrap up the blog for now.  You can probably look for a new post in a week or two.  I am working on a piece for our newsletter that I want to post on here when it is done.  And if you feel up to it, comment on what would be in your “Goal 4.”  Both met and still working on.  It is nice to know what people are up to.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Site

So I moved recently.  That's right, after a month of being in and out of lodges in Gabs and vacation, I finally got my new site.  I have been there since Monday, and it is going alright so far.  Not too much to report, just some meetings with people to figure out a work plan.  I am going to hit the ground running as best I can.  The important thing though, is I now have a new address.  If you need to reach me you can at:

Adam Hii
Gamodubu Primary School
PO Box 1155

That is really all I needed to say now now, so talk to you all soon!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A long long time ago...

In a place in my life far far away...I had a blog that I was regularly updated.  Well, that came to a crashing halt.  So let's recap my life in a whirlwind attempt to catch up in 2 categories: the good and the bad.

The good:

Work good:  School garden is finally up and running!  The PACT club at Kaudwane increased in size from 15-35 kids for the coming year.  And I had a bunch of new recruits for the ladies' soccer team.

Travel good:  Namibia was amazing!!!!  I went over New Years and had a blast.  Ate some awesome food, quad biked in the sand dunes, went sand boarding, did a kayaking trip where I got to play with seals, and bought some really cool stuff.  All in all I had an awesome time.

Personal good:  I started to look at my list of graduate schools.  I finished my 163rd book since arriving here.  And...that is about all I can think of right now.

The bad:

Ok.  So full disclaimer.  I have always tried my best on this blog to show as accurate of a PC experience as I can.  That means that not all days will be gems.  I won't always be in a good mood, or feel like I am saving the world.  In fact, a lot of days can just plain suck, just like anywhere else.  And when that happens we tend to dwell more on the good than the bad.  Well, that has been my mood lately.  Despite that, I am going to try my best to limit the bad to be around the same length as the "good" list, just for...well because it is my blog and that is what I want.

Work bad:  All my progress at my old site is now down the tube.  Due to robberies (see personal bad) I won't be returning to that site.  As such I will have to start over at a new school, which has possibilities, but will definitely be a challenge.  Still going to give it my all though.

Travel bad:  I have no pictures from Namibia since my camera got stolen.  Also, while I had a lot of fun I am now broke for the next month when I get some reimbursements from PC that are in the pipe line.

Personal bad:  Well, if you have not heard by now, my house was broken into several times.  I have lost a lot of things, and due to security concerns I am moving sites.  So I will be in the village of Gamodubu (right between Gabs and Moleps).  So I will be closer to things, but I will be starting over.  We will see how it works out, but it feels like a mixed bag going into it.

And with that I think I will actually wrap up this blog.  It wasn't long, and it feels like I did not say a lot for what all has happened.  But I am just not in a chatty mood at the moment.  And I really just wanted to do this while I have internet before heading to Gamodubu tomorrow.  I will post a new address once I have it.